Sports Translation: Sidestepping the Challenges

Sports Translation: Sidestepping the Challenges

17 Oct 2022

By Nabeel Rashid*

Sports Translation: Sidestepping the Challenges

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM is fast approaching and the translation of tournament-related news and web material is accelerating. FIFA’s translators alone interpret nearly three million words in each of its four official languages per year. With teams from 32 different countries speaking roughly 20 different languages, a high volume of content is expected to sweep social media both during the tournament and long after the winning goal has been scored, while TV coverage in several languages is expected to reach billions of viewers. 

The worldwide nature of this international mega-sporting event - and the globalization of sports in general - undoubtedly necessitates high-quality translation to facilitate specialized content of this volume.

Sports content and its challenges

Translating sports-related content involves complex challenges that require a set of practical solutions to guarantee high quality. Translations must reflect specialized vocabulary and contexts in the target language. Due to the challenge of finding semantic and cultural equivalents, this aspect has consistently been a challenge for translators. In addition, developing a paraphrased equivalent requires creative translation, linguistic soundness in the target language, and cultural sensitivity to both languages.

Approaches for sports translators

In light of this, sports translation requires a different methodology to the traditional approach used when translating a general text. Firstly, translators must have a background in sports terminology. To achieve a semantic translation (one that aims to find the balance between figurative and literal meanings), sports translators should possess a certain level of research proficiency. In other words, unlike any general translation done with the help of a dictionary, sports translators must search semantically for the equivalents of specialized vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and jargon. 

Translators are required to deal with such specialized vocabulary with a higher degree of precision, both semantically and communicatively, and employ other methods whenever possible. This may include transliteration, transcription, use of domestic expressions, or neologisms (newly-coined words or expressions), and so on.

Nabeel RashidAdvances in technology offer translators a range of tools to achieve a high-quality sports translation. The sports translation cycle can benefit greatly from several computer-assisted technologies such as translation memory (TM) systems and “termbases” (a database containing terminology and related information) in translation software. With access to these validated, specialized bilingual sports-based databases and/or glossaries, the translation outcome would meet the highest standards. 

Software such as "TRADOS" can store and reuse accurate translations of terms and phrases within a sports context, which ultimately reduces the time spent on translation or on checking online dictionaries and specialized sports websites. Using such software also maintains a consistency of language usage and the optimum equivalents already used.      

Sport uses its own language

General dictionaries include very little specialized sports vocabulary. Instead, they frequently use a generic definition solely on a lexical basis. Sports translators are therefore highly advised to use specialized sports-related dictionaries which provide significant value in terms of equivalent appropriateness and semantic correctness. 

For instance, think of the term "the box". A general dictionary often defines it as a "rectangular container," while a specialized sports dictionary defines it as "the penalty area". Imagine the two meanings of this term when translating the following sentence: “In the second half, Manchester United entered the box many times.”

The thrill of the game reflected in context

Writing style and context are also two crucial factors in sports translation. Sports writing is typically engaging, particularly when the focus is a medal win, a talented athlete’s profile, or the staging of a multi-sport event such as the Olympics. It is similar to broadcasting, simply in text format. 

Additionally, there are common writing criteria for sport-related texts, which should be reflected during translation. They are essential and help in preserving the interesting journalistic spirit of the source text. Translators working in the sports industry need to be aware of common practices. An example is writing scores. Numerals separated by hyphens (12-6 instead of 12 to 6 and 8-2 instead of 8 and 2), and always writing the winning score first. 

In short, some translation experts classify sports translation as "technical translation" because it necessitates the translator having some level of experience in a technical area of a given field or conducting further research to find the specific technical jargon. While a general translation conveys a general message and usually addresses unspecified readers, a sports translation is always intended for a specific audience and uses specialized vocabulary. 

Translators, particularly in the sports domain, always strive for an accurate and consistent translation. Therefore, before sending the client the translated content, they conduct extensive research and double-check all terms. For anyone interested in being part of the dynamic yet niche world of sports translation and writing, it is well worth keeping this categorization in mind!  It is also part of the approach to professional development in our sports-related translation workshops at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Translation and Interpreting Institute, which is celebrating 10 years of success in developing these capacities.     

*Nabeel Rashid is a translation reviser at HBKU’s TII, where he also leads workshops on sports translation. He has been part of translation legacy teams at events such as the Doha Asian Games.